Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the country will reduce the number of international arrivals by half, making it harder for Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded offshore to return home.
In a bid to ease the burden on the quarantine system, Australia will slash the number of people entering Australia by 4,000 each week starting from Monday.
- Australia cuts international arrivals by half to contain the coronavirus pandemic
- Australian citizens and permanent residents overseas will find it harder to return home
- Returning international travellers will also have to pay for their own quarantine
'Sorry those residents returning to Australia'
Announcing the decision, the prime minister said the capping would ensure that the country’s resources are instead channelized towards testing and tracing contacts to contain the virus.
“The decision that we took to reduce the number of returned travellers to Australia at this time was to ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do the testing and tracing and not have to have resources diverted to other tasks,” he said.
Mr Morrison acknowledged the decision would make it more difficult to return home but insisted it was in the national interest.
“You have to make judgements in the national interest. There will be capacity for people to return to Australia, as there has been for many months. There will be continuous access to Australia but the number of available positions on flights will be less and I don't think that is surprising or unreasonable in the circumstances that we find ourselves in," he said.
In addition, all states and territories will start charging for 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine, a scheme that has cost the jurisdictions millions in costs ever since it was enforced in late March.
'Insensitive and frustrating'
The decisions have aggravated the concerns of hundreds of Australians stranded in India booked on the special Air India flights scheduled to land in Sydney and Melbourne later this month.
Business consultant Saurabh Jolly who was due to return to his life in Melbourne along with his family on an Air India flight currently scheduled to depart from New Delhi on July 15 said it’s a double whammy for Australians stranded overseas.
“It is insensitive and extremely frustrating. One, we have paid a hefty price to secure these flight tickets which was nothing short of a lottery. Second, we will have to face prolonged delays to return to our own country and on top, you are asking us to pay for our quarantine,”
The changes have been sparked by Victoria’s battle with the second wave of Covid-19 infections prompting the state government to divert all international flights away from Melbourne.
New South Wales, where most international travellers arrive and Western Australia too arranged a cap on international arrivals. It is, however, not clear how the restricted capping would now be implemented.
Tax consultant Yamini Arora who was due to return to Sydney on July 17 said hundreds of Australians have been left in the lurch in India alone.
“We have no idea whether these flights will be allowed to return or how the capping would be implemented. It seems as if we are being punished for not returning sooner when everyone knows there were hardly any flights available,” she said.
Mr Morrison did not say for how long the country would continue to accept arrivals in a reduced capacity. He, however, stated that the arrangement would remain in place for the “foreseeable future.”
“At a time when Victoria was able to take flights again, then obviously the challenges to the system presently caused by the outbreak in Victoria would have subsided and that then would mean that there would be less pressure on the system nationally.
“Until that is under control, or even beyond that has been under control and Victoria is able to take up those flights again, then we will be in a restricted capacity for the foreseeable future,” said the prime minister.
Ever since international borders were closed in March, over 357,000 Australian citizens and residents have returned amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
Restrictive caps on arrivals would also have an impact on the prospect of pilot schemes to return international students.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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